God gave to man and woman complementary roles. This is true not only in marriage, but wherever male and female are called by their vocations to collaborate. Particularly in the lives of saints do we see holy women accomplishing great deeds and achieving great sanctity with the assistance and advice of holy men.
St. Catherine of Siena was one of the most notable women of the fourteenth century. Blessed Raymond Delle Vigne, a Dominican friar, could not match her in wits; yet as her spiritual director and coworker he helped her wisely to channel her great gifts.
Not that Raymond was himself ungifted in mind and soul. He was a native of Capua, Italy, and the descendant of its noblest family. While studying Scripture and Patrology at Bologna, he entered the Order of Preachers (the Dominican Friars). Despite chronic poor health, he rose to prominence in that Order as a teacher and religious superior. In 1363 he was designated spiritual director of the Dominican nuns at Montepulciano. In this assignment he became experienced in the spiritual counseling of women. In 1374 he was appointed “lector” or teacher of the Dominican friary at Siena.
Catherine, a member of the third order of the Dominicans, was then in her late twenties, some 16 years younger than Friar Raymond. She was obviously a good person, but unusual in character and strong in feeling. What she most needed at that point in her life was guidance.
Fr. Raymond first met Catherine in Siena on the feast of St. John the Baptist. As she assisted at his Mass, she heard an inner voice saying, “This is my beloved servant. This is he to whom I will entrust you.” He was shortly appointed her spiritual director. Raymond was not an enthusiast, but a cautious, deliberate man, ideally equipped to advise and assist this remarkable penitent during the last six years of her life. Theirs was a warm and appreciative spiritual friendship. Bl. Raymond would eventually write the Saint’s first important biography.
Once their association began, they worked as a team on all of the Saint’s important projects. They first collaborated in taking care of the victims of the Black Death that was epidemic in Siena. Raymond himself became infected with the plague, but after Catherine had prayed over him for an hour and a half, he recovered fully, convinced now of her charismatic holiness.
After the epidemic was over, the Saint undertook to launch a new crusade to save Christianity in the Mideast. Raymond preached the crusade at Pisa. He also personally delivered Catherine’s famous letter to Sir John Hawkwood, an Englishman who had become one of the most notorious brigands in Italy.
The crusade campaign was cut short by the outbreak of a revolt by Florence and the Tuscan League against Pope Gregory XI. During Gregory’s residence in Avignon, France, Italy had fallen into turmoil. Catherine and Raymond agreed that the pope had to return to Rome, so they began to work for peace in Italy as a preliminary.
Gregory did at length come back to the Eternal City, although he died shortly afterward. It was then that the French party of cardinals, who had first voted in the new pope, Urban VI, suddenly declared that Urban’s election was void, and elected a French cardinal, “Clement VI”, thus initiating the Great Schism of the West. Fr. Raymond and St. Catherine stood firm for the Roman pope, and Urban VI sent Raymond to France to win its king away from the “pope” of Avignon. Unfortunately, the friar was refused admission at the French border.
While at Pisa on April 28, 1380, Raymond heard a disembodied voice say, “Tell him never to lose courage. I will be with him in every danger; if he fails, I will help him up again.” He later learned that Catherine had died that day, and before dying had spoken those very words to the people around her.
Bl. Raymond fell heir to the “family” of clerics and laypeople who had assisted the dead saint. Elected that same year to head the Dominicans of the Roman obedience, he worked to reform the order. While engaged in this work he died at Nuremberg, Germany.
St. Catherine had learned much from Fr. Raymond. But Raymond had also learned very much from her.
–Father Robert F. McNamara